Meeting Sarah Hartwell of

Yesterday I went to visit Sarah Hartwell at her semi-detached home in Chelmsford, which is about  a 45 minute train journey from Central London. She has lived there for about 25 years. Her deceased cats are buried in the garden. For many years Sarah worked at the Chelmsford branch of Cats Protection.

Sarah currently cares for two cats, both random bred. Mr Minns is featured on another page where there is a large format picture (of quality) and below, on this page, is another picture of Mr Minns and one of Kitty, a calico cat with lots of white. You can read about her cats, past and present, on her website.

Sarah Harwell's cat Mr Minns

Sarah Harwell’s cat Mr Minns

Sarah Hartwell's cat Kitty

Sarah Hartwell’s cat Kitty

The picture of Kitty isn’t great because she scampered away to the downstairs loo as soon as I arrived and stayed there throughout my visit. She still looks beautiful.

Sarah is a very down to earth person. She is also very private. She made it clear to me that I could not photograph her. I had wanted a photo of me and her together for the scrap book! Wouldn’t that have been nice ;).

So, without a photo, I’ll just state that she is a robust person, about 5 feet 7 inches tall, who does not feel the cold. She has a round face, wears glasses and has blond hair. Her clothes cannot disguise the fact that she is a genuine cat lady.

In one respect, Sarah is refreshingly different to the conventional cat lady. She is not a lady who likes to write or read about the usual internet cat topics; the fluffy or routine stuff. No, Sarah is very scientific, analytical and focused on her writing and research for her archive and her website. She also writes for other publications and has a neat network of colleagues, some of them top geneticists in their field, with whom she exchanges information about cats. One of her favourite cat topics is cat genetics about which she is expert. Her formal training and qualifications are as an engineer. In the previous post about one of her cats, Mr Minns, I described her as a science-oriented geek. This is praise, as far as I am concerned, and it’s also her own description.

Sarah is keen to do things her way and preserve her style of writing (very objective) and content. She is a strong-minded, independent woman and is not motivated by money. I asked if she would write an article for PoC if I paid her £40. That didn’t work but when I suggested that I donate the £40 to Chelmsford Cats Protection she agreed. That tells you a bit more about Ms Hartwell. She is a very kind-hearted lady.

Sarah drives a beat up old Vauxhall Corsa. It gets her from A to B. She loves the engineering of buses and vans but cars are for a functional purpose. Sarah is not particularly house proud. Her home is comfortable etc. but I sense she is more concerned with what she does rather than how she looks and how her home looks. It is about focusing on the important things; her work. Good for her.

When Sarah invited me to visit her, she asked if I’d like to see her archive. She meant her extensive library of books and other publications on the cat. Sarah’s cat library is all over her house. The picture below shows a part of it and it is in her second bedroom:

Sarah Hartwell's book archive

Part of Sarah Hartwell’s book archive

Although her library contains all manner of information on the cat, wild to domestic, there appears to be a focus on the history of the cat and information that is unusual and hard to find. She has many old publications, the contents of which are now in the public domain (early 1900s and 19th century). What I mean is the contents are no longer protected by copyright because it has expired.

She is in the process of scanning these books, converting the scans to ordinary text and publishing the work to her website. This allows her and visitors to efficiently search for information in these books and if they want to, and to download it and use it.

In the bookcase shown in the photograph above is one small fragile book that fired up Sarah’s imagination and which is the prequel to her long journey writing about the cat. Here is a photo of one page of it (I have forgotten the title).

The first book that inspired Sarah Hartwell to beome involved with writing about cats

The first book that inspired Sarah Hartwell to become involved with writing about cats

That’s my little summary of Sarah Hartwell. Perhaps she is the quintessential cat lover, the independent minded, intelligent, single woman, who is focused and passionate about what she does, which is to further our knowledge of the cat and create an encyclopedic archive of her work.

P.S. I have just bumped into a page on the internet about Sarah Hartwell born 1593 in Chelmsford, Essex, England! A relation?

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Meeting Sarah Hartwell of — 18 Comments

  1. Pingback: A three-eared cat? « Why Evolution Is True

  2. Gerard Brewis using jamesgreenstone email.
    Re comment/suggestion on cat-testing made evening 14/9.
    Thanks for your reply. Actually, I wish to exert my right to withdraw the comment /suggestion I made and don’t wish it to be passed on, published or distributed (and, importantly, I Do wish it to be erased) as there are flaws/misunderstandings in it, as I am sure will be seen and I’m sure you would see them too. Please confirm all above.

  3. I love this article Michael and I share your admiration for Sarah. When I first discovered that Mikey was deaf I found very little about his condition on the internet. The information I did find….I found on I have used her site for reference ever since.
    A few months ago I sent her a photograph of Mikey and shared his story…. she asked if she could add him to her deaf cat page ….I still feel honored. 🙂

    • Hi Sarah, like you, I have a considerable collection of cat ephemera, early (cats) children’s books picture greetings cards. So am fascinated to see your history of cat food brands on inter net. I am finishing my social history of cats for publication. Cat food is only a small part but need another 1950’s ad for red heart or Spratts fish. Can you advise where I might research for this? (Some royalties for Cats protection of course)Marilyn.

  4. I’m glad you enjoyed your visit Michael, I love the sound of Sarah and her cats are both beautiful.
    Our car is a beaten up and moody Vauxhall Corsa too, 12 years old but we love him.
    Our late mother came from Galleywood in Chelmsford, moved to County Durham when she and our late dad married.
    We could be relatives 🙂
    How wonderful to have so many books about cats and so many old ones including the very old one by Charles Baker!

  5. Another Chelmsford Hartwell? Not a relative, I’m afraid, as Hartwell isn’t my birth name. I’m only 5’6″ in bare feet and the artificial blonde is growing out. Robust and not feeling the cold are the result of growing up in north Essex and getting my first house – I simply couldn’t afford to use the central heating!

    The fragile book is “Animals; Their Nature and Uses” by Charles Baker. It was published between 1850 and 1870. I somehow inherited it when I was 6 and though there is a missing page, it has survived. I grew up reading this book and “The Children’s Encyclopedia” (Arthur Mee) and “The Wonderland of Knowledge” (Ernest Ogan) which are from the 1930s.

    • I put 5’6″ at first and then raised it 😉

      To me you are pretty robust which I consider to be a good quality.

      I want to thank you again for such an interesting visit. You are an individual and I admire your work a lot.

      I hope my plain writing style was not too difficult to digest.

    • Sarah is a very interesting person. She certainly is not your mainstream sort of person or woman. I guess that comes out in the website.

      Perhaps the overriding thing is her generosity in respect of her time in building her website which does not generate income (directly) and her help at Cats Protection.

      She is a special cat lady.

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